Psychotherapy helps children and adolescents in a variety of ways. They receive emotional support, resolve conflicts with people, understand feelings and problems, and try out new solutions to old problems. Goals for therapy may be specific (change in behavior, improved relations with friends or family), or more general (less anxiety, better self-esteem). The length of psychotherapy depends on the complexity and severity of problems.
How do I know if my child needs therapy:
- Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Constant anger and a tendency to overreact to situations
- Persistent worry, anxiety, or fearfulness
- Preoccupation with physical illness or their own appearance
- Fear that someone is controlling his mind, or that he is “out of control”
- A sudden, unexplained drop in grades at school
- A loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed
- Changes in patterns of sleeping or eating
- Reclusiveness, preferring to be alone rather than in the company of friends or family
- Hearing voices that aren’t there
- Expressing thoughts of suicide
- An inability to concentrate, think clearly, or make decisions
- An inability to sit still
- Performing routines obsessively throughout the day, such as washing hands or cleaning things
- Experiencing regular nightmares
- Alcohol or drug use
- Dieting obsessively, or binging followed by vomiting or taking laxatives.
- Taking part in violent acts such as setting fires or killing animals
If a child or adolescent shows some or many of these signs, they may likely need therapy. Therapy for kids can be very beneficial, particularly if a problem is identified before it can grow worse.
Types of Childhood Therapy
Many different types of mental health issues can arise in children, and therapy comes in many forms. Some forms of counseling available to children, and the disorders they can help treat, include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy. In this form of counseling, children are taught how their own thoughts can affect their mood and behavior. Kids are shown how to identify negative or distorted thought patterns and deal with them. This type of therapy is helpful in addressing mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
- Play therapy. Kids are given toys to play with, and a psychotherapist watches their play to better understand their emotional or mental health issues. Different types of play help the child figure out feelings and express them. Play therapy can help kids who have depression or anxiety because they are having trouble dealing with life issues like divorce or the death of a loved one.
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy. This is the children’s version of the classic “talking cure,” by which a psychotherapist helps figure out the issues that are influencing how a child thinks or acts. The therapy operates on the theory that a child’s behavior will improve once his inner struggles are brought out in the open. This can help a child who has anxiety or depression, is dealing with an eating disorder, or is lashing out due to a conduct disorder.
- Behavior therapy. This sort of therapy for kids differs from cognitive-behavioral therapy in that it focuses on behavior modification. Behaviors are identified that need to be discouraged or encouraged, and then parents work to change the environmental factors that contribute to those behaviors and also provide consequences for desired or undesired behavior. It is helpful for treating children who have ADHD, as well as other conditions for which behavior modification is desired.
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